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FreeMarkets leads B2B stocks higher

FreeMarkets shares hustled up 5 3/8, or 10 percent, to 58 1/8 Tuesday, leading a revival in the downtrodden business-to-business software and services sector.

On Monday, FreeMarkets (Nasdaq: FMKT) posted a first-quarter loss of $8.4 million, or 24 cents a share, excluding charges.

First Call consensus expected it to lose 28 cents a share in the quarter.

USB Piper Jaffray upgraded the stock from a "buy" recommendation to a "strong buy" Tuesday.

Total sales in its first quarter more than tripled from the year-ago quarter, surging to $10.8 million from $3.5 million.

The company said it grew its customer base from 34 to 47 companies.

During the first quarter, FreeMarkets said its online auctions moved $1.4 billion worth of direct materials, commodities and services, creating an estimated $300 million in potential savings for its customers.

FreeMarkets operates real-time, business-to-business online auctions for companies buying chemicals, coal, and products in more than 70 other categories.

Fellow B2B stocks also enjoyed health gains Tuesday.

Ariba (Nasdaq: ARBA) moved up 6 5/16, or 12 percent, to 60 3/4 while VerticalNet (Nasdaq: VERT) and Commerce One (Nasdaq: CMRC) and Ventor Corp. (Nasdaq: VNTR) added 10 5/8 and 3 1/8 a share, respectively. eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) shares were up 12 17/32, or 9 percent, to 155 25/32.

First Call consensus expects FreeMarkets to lose 30 cents a share in its second quarter and $1.20 a share in the fiscal year. It's not expected to turn a profit until sometime in 2002.

Its shares moved up to an all-time high of 370 in January before plunging to a low of 39 1/2 last week.

All nine analysts tracking the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.